The Commercial Appeal

Words fail Baltimore leaders after murders

- By Peter Hermann The Washington Post

BALTIMORE — Last weekend in Baltimore, 20 people were shot, and eight killed, in a spasm of violence all too familiar to a city consistent­ly ranked near the top of the nation in murders per capita.

Initial reaction from leaders was muted. On Sunday, as the numbers ticked ever upward, there was no statement from the mayor. There was no statement from the police commission­er.

Pressed by reporters, the police department’s chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, finally broke the silence.

“This is a little bit of a spike in terms of the weekend, but all in all, we’re pretty satisfied with the way the city is headed, violence-wise,” he told The Baltimore Sun.

As a result of that regrettabl­e statement, Guglielmi is no longer the police spokesman.

Talking about overall crime drops during a crime wave may not be the ideal way to comfort a city on edge.

But Guglielmi’s inarticula­te misstep is only a symptom of a larger challenge in Baltimore.

Year after year, the per capita murder rate exceeds that of other big cities. Year after year, politi- cians and police chiefs try to appease the public with the right choice of words. Year after year, the murders continue.

It’s no wonder the mayor and the top cop said so little in the early hours of last week’s mayhem. Words aren’t enough, and they can get you in trouble.

Police Commission­er Anthony Batts’s predecesso­r got muzzled for talking too plainly, calling crooks morons and knucklehea­ds. Years earlier, another commission­er talked too much and was ridiculed as “TV Tom.”

Rhetoric matters, and Batts f inally acknowledg­ed as much days after the initial spurt of violence when he told reporters that the department had done a terrible job talking with the public as the shootings mounted.

Batts promised to flood the city with three times as many officers the following weekend, and he assured the public that top commanders would be available to reassure the city that it isn’t falling into anarchy.

After last weekend’s bloodshed, two more people were shot Monday, five on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, six on Thursday and one on Friday. In all, 36 people have been shot in a week of violence.

The death toll climbed to 14.

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